Michael Keaton in TNT miniseries The CompanyTomorrow night brings the conclusion of The Company, a three-part, six-hour miniseries on Turner Network Television (TNT). The series, based on a novel by Robert Littell, is produced by Ridley Scott and Tony Scott and tells the story of approximately three decades in the history of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

In so doing, it vividly illustrates the conflicting national security goals that inevitably face all liberal societies.

The story is basically sympathetic to the aims of the agency, meaning it approves of the overall U.S. goals in the Cold War, although it is honest about the shortcomings and failures of execution that occurred. The tragic consequences of the Eisenhower administration’s refusal to provide direct support to the Hungarian uprising in 1956 are shown vividly, yet one can assuredly make a strong case, especially on classical liberal grounds, that the president’s decision was the right one.

Eisenhower’s decision was almost certainly right from the perspective of U.S. interests, yet it surely had devastating consequences for Hungary. That is tragic, and the CIA’s evident encouragement of the Hungarians to revolt against their government contributed to the tragedy, although it’s obvious that the Hungarians did indeed want to revolt regardless of the U.S. position on the matter.

As the program makes clear, it was not the United States that was the problem; it was the Soviet Union that was responsible for all the death, destruction, and torture.

In the Bay of Pigs incident, by contrast, President Kennedy’s decision not only to encourage the invasion but also to finance, train, and supply the invasion force made it an entirely different matter. Kennedy’s refusal to provide air cover for the invasion was catastrophic and clearly set back U.S. foreign policy for a couple of decades. As one character notes, if the United States considered Cuba a real threat, we should have invaded openly and directly. That would have been the honorable and defensible thing to do.

As these observations suggest, The Company does an excellent job of laying out the issues that confronted the United States during the Cold War, and the difficult choices our nation had to make. The presence of a mole in the CIA over many years—which is also based on fact—further suggests the practical difficulties of conducting the Cold War. A nation devoted to centralized government power, such as the Soviet Union, has easy choices to make: attack whomever you wish, whenever you think you can succeed. A liberal nation such as the United States, by contrast, must respect the sovereignty of other nations, involve itself in other nations’ affairs only when there is a true and direct threat to U.S. citizens and property, and respect the rights of its citizens while doing all that it must to protect them.

That is an almost impossible combination of goals to satisfy simultaneously, yet a liberal nation must purse them all. That the Cold War presented us with an implacable, immensely formidable enemy made the choices even more difficult. As The Company suggests, the need to make those choices is a matter of immense importance and great drama.

The writing, production, direction, and performances in the series all help make The Company both dramatically and intellectually compelling. Chris O’Donnell, Michael Keaton, and Alfred Molina stand out among a highly skilled cast.

The final episode of the series premieres Sunday night at 8:00 EDT on TNT, and you can catch up with the story by watching full episodes online here